In the spring of 1712, the English sent a war party of Fox & Macoutin to try and take Fort Pontchartrain in Detroit from the French. Over 1000 were massacred by tribes loyal to the French near Windmill Point at the mouth of the Detroit River on Lake St. Clair, effectively destroying the Fox nation.
My new favorite book, Legends of Le Détroit by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin with illustrations by Miss Isabella Stewart, details the episode. If I were you, I would click over to the book right now and read it there – it’s not nearly as long as Tuesday’s tale ;)
We’ll join the story…
Years after the dreadful massacre which converted the beautiful spot called Presque Isle into the grave of the Fox nation, a stone mill was built there by a French settler, who came to reside with his sister Josette, undaunted by the ourrent traditions which peopled it with the spirits of the departed warriors. Jean was a quiet, morose man, different from the laughing, careless, pleasure-loving Canadian, — for rare were his visits, to the fort, and it was noticed that he never lingered over his cidre, nor spoke to the smiling, piquante daughters of the habitants.
…Josette was much older than her brother, and by dint of thrift and economy had saved enough to become a half owner in the mill. … Naught disturbed the monotony of their lives ; each day was but a repetition. The river flowed calmly on, the birds sang their songs – for nature has no moods, they belong to man alone.
At last Josette fell sick. Jean attended her as carefully as he could, and like a prudent man, would frequently ask her to whom she would leave her interest in the mill. Irritable from suffering, she became annoyed at his importunities, accused him of taking care of her for the sake of obtaining her money, and told him ‘she would leave it to the devil.” Jean tried in his clumsy fashion, to soothe her. He sent for some of his kindred to reason with her, but they only infuriated her the more, and she solemnly declared that not one of them should have her share in the mill, but “she would sooner leave it to the devil.”
Josette recovered, however, and with that perversity born of stubbornness, would not relent. A few months afterwards she was found dead in her bed, having died suddenly. That same night, whilst the candles threw their dim shadowy light in the room of the dead, a furious storm arose, lashing the waves against the shore, the winds howling fiercely around the point, the black clouds chasing each other across the lowering skies, as lurid gleams of lightning and deafening reverberations of thunder, made all the habitants shudder while they crossed themselves and told their beads. All at once there came so tremendous a shock that it seemed to swallow the island. The old stone mill was rent in twain. A pungent smell of sulphur filled the air, and a fiendish, laugh was heard loud above the raging storm from the shattered ruins. The arch fiend had come to claim his share.
For years afterwards when a northeast storm blew from the lake, making night hideous by its echoing peals of thunder, it was said that a hairy figure, with a horned head and forked tail tipped with fire, his mouth and eyes darting forth ruddy flame, could be seen in the mill, trying to put together the ruined machinery to grind the devil’s grist. And the lonely wayfarer to Grosse Pointe would see the marshes around Presque Isle all illuminated by flames, called by the hab- itants feu-follet (Will-o’-the-Wisp), which would try to inveigle the unhappy traveler and bring him to help grind the devil’s grist.
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